Among the many distinctions David Axelrod has achieved in his career, there is one that requires special elaboration: He is, it turns out, one of the few customers to have ever run a tab at Manny’s, the Chicago cafeteria and deli. This is not because the odd knish ($4.25) or side of potato chips ($0.75) threatened to leave him cash-poor. It is, rather, because Axelrod has long styled himself someone who accumulates wisdom at places regular people frequent, not the lacquered haunts of downtown Washington. What the Oval Room is to Beltway consultant-dom, Manny’s is to Axelrod.
In 1992, a Chicago woman named Bettylu Saltzman met Barack Obama, who had graduated from Harvard Law School one year earlier and was now in her city leading a voter-registration drive called Project Vote. Saltzman, an heiress to a shopping-mall fortune who's long been active in Democratic politics, was volunteering for Bill Clinton's presidential bid when, one day, Obama dropped by the campaign's Chicago office to discuss Project Vote. Saltzman came away from the encounter very, very impressed.